It’s easy for a Hollywood celebrity to stand next to a starving child, stare into a video camera and remind us that children are our future. It’s much more difficult to nourish that child—on a regular basis—with enough food, clothing and education to help him grow up and truly shape the future.
The same principle applies to caring for widows, immigrants, the impoverished and other people groups who, for various reasons, need assistance for a better life. In Israel, dozens of organizations have been birthed specifically to reach this swelling segment of the Jewish population. Amid the politics of the most contested land in human history, the following five humanitarian aid organizations have dedicated themselves to being a consistent presence in the Holy Land to shape a brighter tomorrow for the next generation of Jews.
Many Christians are unaware of the poverty that exists in Israel. About one-fifth of Israeli families live below the poverty line, while 36 percent of Israeli children and 25 percent of Israeli Holocaust survivors live in impoverished conditions, according to a 2008 National Insurance Institute report.
Leket Israel (formerly Table to Table) seeks to care for Israel’s needy, while showing them God’s love, by offering a variety of food distribution efforts across the country.
Last year, the organization diverted 5,700 tons of produce and perishable manufactured food items from destruction and redistributed it to 230 nonprofits working with needy Jews. It also spared and gave out 700,000 unused, unpurchased meals from restaurants, mall food courts and hotels that would have been thrown away.
One of the ministry’s food pickups is turned around in five hours to feed 500 shut-ins, and more than 1 million sandwiches have been provided for school children from dysfunctional homes in 24 cities. In fact, Leket’s reputation for its care of Israel’s poor is such that last year a major grocery chain asked the organization to redistribute an overstock of cereal for the chain. Leket answered the call and rerouted 100,000 boxes of cereal to the needy.
“Think about the story of feeding the multitudes,” says Ray MacDonald, one of Leket’s directors. “What did Jesus say after everyone was fed? He wanted the leftovers picked up. Why? I believe He didn’t want to waste.”
Leket uses three methods to redistribute food: nighttime pickups from restaurants and other food outlets, gleaning from producers, providing meals for Israeli school children. For the gleaning, farmers leave 10 percent of their fields, usually the corners, for Leket. The total of school children fed with a sandwich, fruit and drink has now topped 1 million youngsters in less than seven years.
Leket’s efforts have indirectly helped a hospice for autistic adults improve its facility. “[The hospice] told us recently that because of the food we help them with, they are able to spend money on other things like beds, staffing and programming,” MacDonald says.
More than 40,000 people in a year donate their time to Leket, making it the largest volunteer organization in Israel.
House of David
The combined ministries of House of David initiate and execute a number of humanitarian-aid projects for the people of Israel. Projects range in scope from distributing food boxes to the poor of Sderot-a town in southwest Israel that is a target for rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip-to arranging for shiploads of needed food stuffs and supplies to be transported from the United States to Israel.
House of David differs from Israel-based humanitarian organizations in that its home operations are in Oklahoma. Curt Landry, founder of House of David, is an American pastor and former apple broker in Washington state who launched My Olive Tree (myolivetree.com) in Israel to provide jobs for local residents and benefit Israel economically.
The trees, which are sponsored for $299 each, are cared for by an Israeli business, thus employing local business managers and professional olive-tree caretakers. The anticipated fruit is to be used for eating as well as for making olive oil and even anointing oil, thereby reinvesting the donated trees back into the economy.
For Christians, the project is a chance to give “a gift that keeps on giving-olive trees live for thousands of years,” Landry says. To date, more than 2,000 trees have been planted. “Last year we took a tour group to [see] some of the trees. It was very emotional.”
“We are sold out in dedicating our lives for the future of Israel,” says Landry, who founded House of David in 2000 with his wife, Christie.
House of David is also dedicated, as Landry says, to be a “support of Zion’s children.” To do this, it educates Israeli youth through two ministry emphases.
One is Young Adult Disciples, or YAD-which is similar to the Hebrew letter yod, meaning “hand.” YAD’s mission is to prepare a “special force” of young men and women to fulfill Matthew 28:18-20, influencing all nations for the kingdom of God.
The other is a focus on children, whom they categorize into five age groups: Genesis: birth-2; Mustard Seeds, 2-3; Kingdom Kids, 4-kindergarten; .com (Children of Messiah), grades 1-5; and Heirborne, grades 6-9.
“Our goal is to disciple, train and send young men and women who are fully submitted to the Lord and committed to serving Him,” Landry says. “We train them to become proficient in areas that will help them answer the call-such as prayer, foreign languages, culture and protocol, spiritual warfare, utilization of the [spiritual] gifts, fundraising, humanitarian aid and preaching the gospel.”
Landry’s hope for training kids at an early age is strategic: “When you teach them the truth at an early age, they go nuts with it.”
Vision for Israel
Founded in 1994 by Barry and Batya Segal, the nonprofit Vision for Israel (VFI) is an international humanitarian-aid center operating in the Judean hills outside Jerusalem, primarily through its distribution outlet, The Joseph Storehouse. Each week, orphans and widows, homeless and handicapped, elderly and geriatric, new immigrants and victims of terrorism all receive food, clothing, toiletries, kitchen and household items, blankets, towels, linens and toys from the ministry.
“We have helped serve about 350,000 individuals in Israel, both Jewish and Arab, with humanitarian aid assistance in some form,” Barry Segal says. “Most people don’t know about the poverty. Israel doesn’t pride itself in letting people know. The country is perceived as a mighty nation and wants to present its best face.”
Segal says the primary aim of VFI is to distribute what it brings in, not to be a storehouse only. By touching people’s “hearts and physical lives” at the same time, their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being all are improved, he says.
The ministry also gives to children through its Operation Pack to School, in which school kids once a year are provided a backpack containing pens, pencils, paper, ruler and eraser. Since 1999 the ministry has equipped 140,000 children with the packs.
VFI’s other ministries include Lonely Soldiers-for men and women who have no family or come from a high-risk home or environment; Family Welfare; Emergency and Medical Relief; and weekly food deliveries.
“Some of the recipients have tears in their eyes when we provide their goods,” Segal says, adding that about 90 percent of VFI donations come from Christians-a gesture that usually touches the hearts of needy Jews. “They often say they didn’t realize Christians love Israel.”